Are You Buying Organic Ingredients?

Consumers are buying into organic foods; are you buying organic ingredients?

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Development & production with organics

Manufacturers often find the production of appealing organic versions of traditional and favorite mainstream processed foods to be rather challenging.

Certain ingredients are prohibited, especially processing aids and incidental additives such as dusting agents, anti-caking agents, and anti-foaming agents. As a result, the finished product often has a shorter shelf-life or reduced functionality and may not very appealing to first-time purchasers.

This line of Domino sugar carries both the USDA and Quality Assurance International organic seals.

Organic co-packers may be difficult to find. Often, food processors have to change their practices to qualify for organic certification.

Certification is done by USDA-accredited inspectors. The inspection involves on-site evaluation of crop standards, livestock standards and handling standards to ensure the basic tenets of the National Organic Program (NOP) of USDA are adhered to throughout the chain of custody. (See sidebar, Defining organics.)

The NOP designation requires that that organic foods incorporate certified organic colors and flavors if commercially available. If they’re not available, then processors may resort to incorporating natural ingredients provide thating they conform to guidelines – specifically that they contain no genetically modified organisms and that they are not produced using any prohibited methods or materials. Solvent extraction is strictly prohibited, which rules out oleoresins and emulsifiers.

However, there is a new category of ingredients called “organic compatible.” These are flavors and extracts that are that are not certified organic but which are permitted ingredients in organic foods.

Flavors and colors labeled as “made with organic ingredients” comprise another category and may be used for foods made with 70-–95% percent organic materials. Still, these and are not allowed in certified organic foods.

New organic offerings available to food processors include flavors, extracts, fruit and vegetable concentrates, caramel colorings, and compounded flavors.

The organic palette

Essential oils are the aromatic components of plants and are either expressed (such as citrus oils) or steam-distilled (such as herb and spice oils). Essential oils are at the very least “organic compatible.”

Extracts contain both volatile and non-volatile taste components of the raw material. Extracts may be derived by the use of solvents, generally petroleum-based, and these are strictly forbidden in organic food production. But extracts also may be derived by the use of highly pressurized, supercritical carbon dioxide solvent or by the use of alcohol and/or water in conjunction with clever use of temperature and pressure combinations for the former, and the use of non-invasive cell rupturing methods such as sonar. These types of extracts are permitted.

Some food processors employ organic emulsifiers to extend the benefits of essential oils and extracts – which are fat-soluble – to and enhance the flavor of water-based foods.

As their very name suggests, concentrates of fruits and vegetables are more potent forms of the color and essence of the starting materials. Widely used to enhance the color and flavor of many foods, including smoothies, yogurts, pastries, and confections, they expand the repertoire of organic versions of conventional fare. Beet concentrate, for example, may be used to redden uncured bacon and bring it closer in appearance to its traditional counterpart.

Caramel colors are derived from sugar and sugar-based compounds and are stabilized by the use of several compounds and preservatives that are forbidden in organic foods. The development of new technologies has reduced the reliance on such compounds and created comparable caramel colors suitable for organic processors. Certified organic caramel colors have significantly enhanced the appearance and stability of organic foods, especially those in transparent packages.

Increasing consumer demand is prompting the exploration of certified organic ingredients such as colors, flavors, and processing aids. “We are seeing more organic raw materials available for the product developer,” says Cynthia Sasaki, director of research and development at Kerry Ingredients (, Kent, Wash. “These raw materials include spices, flavors and functional ingredients. Vendors, recognizing a growing niche, are willing to invest more in organic certification. More organic farm land is also becoming available to allow for more crop production.”

Large ingredient houses, such as Kerry, National Starch and Cargill, are providing an array of organic ingredients to enhance the capability of organic food manufacturers.

Aside from providing manufacturers with more organic ingredients, these suppliers are also developing “functional organic” ingredients such as prebiotics, probiotics, antioxidants, fiber and resistant starch – all of which are promising elements in the health and well-being environment. Meanwhile, market demand has prompted the development of a strong domestic supply of stabilizers and hydrocolloids, and the increased demand for "clean" labels has brought the pricing of many organics to parity with conventional offerings.

Whole-grain soy flour from Nutriant, as was used in this bread, gives processors the opportunity to make label claims related to both content and health.
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